Updated: Fire destroys landmark Willey Farms in Townsend

TOWNSEND – An overnight fire Monday put landmark Willey Farms produce market out of business at least temporarily, though the family vowed shortly afterward to rebuild.

A Facebook post shortly after the blaze was reported at 2 a.m. spelled out the family’s situation and looked forward.

“Hi Guys. We’re all safe. The firefighters tried to save her. They worked real hard. But Willey Farms is gone. From the Deli thru to the greenhouse. Produce. Natural Foods. Home Accents. She’s all gone. We don’t know where to start really. Kinda numb right now. It will be lots of hard heartbreaking work. But she will be built again. We do know that. Thank you for reaching out to us. Thank you for being our customers and friends for 43 years. 💚 Thank you so much. Thank you for your continued prayers and thoughts …”

At mid-afternoon Monday, the State Fire Marshal’s office said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Baltimore Field Division was assisting the investigation. Assistant State Fire Marshal spokesman Michael G. Chioncio described the assistance as “Standard protocol for this type of large loss.”

Authorities asked anyone with information on the fire to contact the State Fire Marshal’s New Castle Division at 323-5375.

Nearby business owner Fred Drake noted that the destruction came years after the new Del. 1 highway diverted much of the traffic that used to pass by on U.S. 13, taking potential customers with it.

“Route 1 was supposed to put us both out of business but in fact we both survived and thrived,” he said. “Now this happens.

“It’s terrible for the family and everyone who works there, especially at this time of year in the busy season. Our hearts go out to them and we will do anything possible to help them out.”

Growing up and riding to work with his dad, Kyle Drake knew he was close to the family business when passing by Willey Farms on the way to Fred Drake Automotive less than half mile to the south.

“It’s always been a landmark for me,” he said. “So many times someone would suggest that we get a little lunch and we went to Willeys so many times to get.”

Third generation family member Hannah Willey rushed home from Philadelphia upon getting the bad news and surveyed the scene shortly afterward.

“It’s surreal,” she said as a steady rain fell around 9 a.m. and smoke still drifted above the scene at 4092 Dupont Parkway.

“This is insane. Never in a million years could I imagine this happening, because this was the place that was always here for us. It was so many things – a place where our family came together, someplace to work, a daycare, a place to bring our boyfriends, it was so many things that were big parts of our lives .”

According to family member Savannah Raichle,” This is our safe haven and to see it like this doesn’t seem possible.”

Ms. Raichle said “my heart goes out to the employees because they are our family too. So many got married here and it was such a big part of their lives just like it was for us.”

According to the Delaware Office of the State Fire Marshal, the Townsend Fire Company arrived on the scene and viewed flames shooting from the building. Hours later investigation into the blaze’s origin and cause was ongoing. No damage estimate was immediately available.

Fire trucks and emergency vehicles remained on the scene for several hours following the initial call, filling the stretch of roadway near the business.

Kyle Drake said Willeys “was one of those places that made people want to move to the area. It had a small town feel and everyone around felt close to it.”

Added Fred Drake, “They’re pretty much a staple in the M.O.T. (Middletown-Odessa-Townsend) area. They’d give the shirt off their backs to help anyone, they really would.”

The Willey Farms Facebook page had 4,229 comments of support and condolences by 11:30 a.m. The family made another post with an update that included:

“Dear Friends.
“It has come to our attention that some ‘go fund me’ accounts have been set up with Willey Farms mentioned. While we are thankful and grateful for your best wishes and efforts on our behalf. We have not sanctioned any such accounts. And not begun to even think in that direction yet. Its early days. Please. Be aware and careful when donating to any accounts. Make sure you know the source of any accounts you donate to.

“Thank you all so much for your concern. Support. And best wishes. We love you all. We have such a great community around us.

“We will be keeping you all updated here and on instagram in the days to come.”

 

Photo by Craig Anderson

 

Photo by Craig Anderson

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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